Never since the Second World War has Europe been so essential. Yet, never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its peoples’ need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. The trap lies not in being part of the European Union (EU); the trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it. Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the EU market? Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the border? Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: The anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.
We have to stand firm, proud and lucid, in the face of this manipulation and say first of all what Europe is. It is a historic success: The reconciliation of a devastated continent is an unprecedented project of peace, prosperity and freedom. Let’s never forget that. And this project continues to protect us today. I pursue it tirelessly on behalf of France, in order to take Europe forward and to defend its model. We have shown that things we were told were unattainable, the creation of a European defence capability and the protection of social rights, were in fact possible.
The European model is based on freedom: Of people, diversity of opinions and creation. Our first freedom is democratic freedom: The freedom to choose our leaders as foreign powers seek to influence our votes at every election. I propose the creation of a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies to provide each EU member state with European experts to protect their election process against cyberattacks and manipulation. In this same spirit of independence, we should also ban the funding of European political parties by foreign powers. We should have European rules banishing incitement to hatred and violence from the internet, since respect for the individual is the bedrock of our civilisation and our dignity.
Founded on internal reconciliation, the EU has forgotten the realities of the world. Yet, no community can create a sense of belonging if it does not have protected territorial limits. The boundary is freedom in security. We, therefore, need to rethink the Schengen area: All those who want to be part of it should comply with obligations of responsibility (stringent border controls) and solidarity (a single asylum policy with common acceptance and refusal rules).
We will need a common border force and a European asylum office, strict control obligations and European solidarity to which each country will contribute under the authority of a European Council for Internal Security. On migration, I believe in a Europe that protects both its values and its borders.
We need to reform our competition policy and reshape our trade policy, penalising or banning businesses that compromise our strategic interests and fundamental values such as environmental standards, data protection and fair payment of taxes; and the adoption of European preference in strategic industries and our public procurement, as our American and Chinese competitors do.
Europe is not a second-tier power. Europe in its entirety is a vanguard: It has always defined the standards of progress. In this, it needs to drive forward a project of convergence rather than competition: Europe, where social security was created, needs to introduce a social shield for all workers, guaranteeing the same pay for the same work, and an EU minimum wage, appropriate to each country, negotiated collectively every year.
Getting back on track also means spearheading the environmental cause. The EU needs to set its target — zero carbon by 2050 and pesticides halved by 2025 — and adapt its policies accordingly with such measures as a European Climate Bank to finance the ecological transition, a European food safety force to improve our food controls and, to counter the lobby threat, independent scientific assessment of substances hazardous to the environment and health. A world-oriented Europe needs to look to Africa, with which we should enter into a covenant for the future, ambitiously and non-defensively supporting African development with investment, academic partnerships and education for girls.
Freedom, protection and progress: We need to build European renewal on these pillars. We can’t let nationalists with no solutions exploit people’s anger. We can’t sleepwalk to a diminished Europe. We can’t remain in the routine of business as usual and wishful thinking. European humanism demands action. And everywhere, people are standing up to be part of that change. So by the end of the year, let’s set up, with representatives of the EU institutions and the member states, a Conference for Europe in order to propose all the changes our political project needs, which is open even to amending the EU treaties. In this Europe, the United Kingdom, I am sure, will find its true place. The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all. We need to escape this trap and make the forthcoming elections and our project meaningful. It is for you to decide whether Europe and the values of progress that it embodies are to be more than just a passing episode in history. This is the choice I put to you: that together we chart the road to European renewal.
Emmanuel Macron is the President of France — Guardian News & Media Ltd